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Mangosuthu Buthelezi: “He was Always like a Big Brother to Many of us”

The Sunday service at the Anglican Church Mission at eNkonjeni was dedicated to one of the church’s most fervent worshippers, Prince Mangosu...

The Sunday service at the Anglican Church Mission at eNkonjeni was dedicated to one of the church’s most fervent worshippers, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who died in the early hours of Saturday, 9 August. 

He was 95 years old.

Buthelezi was one of South Africa’s political icons, the longest-serving member of the National Assembly, the founder and emeritus president of the IFP and the prime minister of the Zulu nation.

For the first time since the church’s inception, two seats were vacant at Sunday’s service.

These are the seats where the late Prince Buthelezi and his wife of 67 years, Irene Thandekile Buthelezi (née Mzila), sat every Sunday. When Irene died in March 2019, Prince Buthelezi continued to occupy his half of the two seats and continued to perform some ceremonies, including providing for the cow to be slaughtered and feasted upon every New Year’s Day.

Congregant Mary Shandu (81) said she knew Buthelezi in the 1950s when they still worshipped in the old church building, which is surrounded by graves of church members.

“I remember that even in the old church, his and his wife’s seats were placed in such a way to face the other congregants because they came from the royal family. His mother, who did not attend our church regularly, came with the couple from time to time to sing for us with his son. She was a songstress, she could sing a storm. In the late 70s Prince Buthelezi became a lay priest and gave us moving sermons,” she said.

Church warden Mandla Ngema said the two seats would remain unoccupied in remembrance of the couple. Other congregants said they will always remember Buthelezi for his insistence on the singing of Anglican hymn Impi Yakho Nkosi.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi: “He was Always like a Big Brother to Many of us”

Lindiwe Zungu (53) said: “He leaves a big void which we can never fill. But we trust God that he will provide for us and lead us during these difficult times.”

Mourners pay their respects

As Sunday church service was under way at the local Anglican Church, at the Buthelezi homestead, about two-and-half kilometres down the road, gleaming cars, sedans, SUVs, 4×4 bakkies and executive cars were streaming in, bringing politicians, diplomats, courtiers of all stripes, traditional leaders, mayors and councillors, churchmen and women, Zulu warriors and others to pay their respects to the Buthelezi’s family. 

Some brought gifts, such as cattle to be slaughtered and fed to the mourners who are expected to come throughout the week ahead of the funeral.

IFP supporters held mini-marches and sang pro-Buthelezi songs outside the homestead gates as the ANC provincial leadership came to pay their respects to a man whom they had long respected while regarding him as a wily political rival.

The ANC and its alliance leaders expressed their condolences, most of them saying that they wished to fulfil Buthelezi’s wishes of finding a lasting reconciliation between the ANC and his IFP, parties that had fought a bitter and bloody civil war during apartheid in the late 1970s, 80s and 90s, in which thousands of people died in what was termed black-on-black violence.

Sboniso Duma, ANC provincial leader, said Buthelezi had dedicated himself to serving the poor in KwaZulu-Natal, and now it is up to the current leaders of all political parties to take up the baton.

“The great walls of Jericho have fallen and it is up to us to rebuild them. Everyone is worried [about] what will happen to KZN now that its champion is no more. It is now upon us to ensure that service delivery continues. It is up to us that the legacy of peace that he built is strengthened. Peace initiatives between the IFP and the ANC are a delicate issue that need to be handled with care. We are up to that task,” he said.

Zweli Mkhize, who spoke on behalf of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC), said he had worked with Buthelezi for many years, during good and difficult times.

“He was always like a big brother to many of us. He was always behaving with integrity, dignity and a deep respect. When I was the KZN Health MEC, and Aids and HIV was still a stigma to many people, it was Prince Buthelezi who helped us by declaring that he had lost two children due to the disease. It was a huge relief and assistance, because now you had this great leader who said HIV/Aids has killed his own children,” Mkhize said.

Zwakele Mncwango, ActionSA’s provincial leader, who hails from the Nongoma area in the Zululand District, said they grew up revering Buthelezi for all his work.

“His passing is a great loss to all of us. When we were growing up we saw all the things he was building from scratch. He was building schools, he was building universities, he was building businesses, he was building towns, townships and communities. Throughout his political career, he has never been associated with corruption, which teaches us, as young politicians, that you can be a great leader without having to steal from the people, without stealing from the poor,” he said.

Ulundi is the centrepiece of Prince Buthelezi’s handiwork. The place was a dilapidated former capital of the ancient Zulu kingdom destroyed by both the British colonial and Boer armies.

His supporters say Prince Buthelezi made Ulundi the capital of the Bantustan government of the KwaZulu homeland, of which he was the chief minister, and pumped millions into it to build administrative and other buildings and revamp the town centre.

One of the last acts of bravery he performed in the town was during the July 2021 riots, when he came to the city one night and gave support to under-siege security officers and police who were keeping looters at bay. As a result, Ulundi was one of the KZN towns untouched by looting and torching.

‘He had a special gift’

Following the news of the passing on Saturday morning of Umntwana waKwaPhindangene (The Prince of Phindangene Palace) Mangosuthu Buthelezi, affectionately known as Shenge to his ardent supporters, local men, women and youth started walking through the dusty main road and walkways, making their way to the Buthelezi homestead to show their grief and pay their respects.

Sello Mhlongo, an 84-year-old eNkonjeni resident, was making his way on foot to the Buthelezi homestead.

“Shenge is my uncle. I’m the son of Shenge’s [half] sister. He was very fond of me and referred to me as mshana [nephew] and whenever I needed anything I would go to him. Even when my mother – his sister – passed on, he gave a cow to slaughter to bury his sister.

“Now I will have no one to cry to. Now, as the Zulu nation, we are defenceless. Even his enemies will come and tear us apart, all the wolves would come and get us now,” Mhlongo said.

The elderly politician had recently returned from hospital where he had been recuperating from post-surgery complications. Last week, he marked his 95th birthday at the hospital. The nurses at the eNkonjeni Hospital – about a five-minute drive from the Buthelezi homestead – said they were heartbroken to hear the sad news.

“Hhawu, shame, it is so sad what has happened to the Old Man, but at least he is no longer in pain because he was very sick,” said one nurse, who was not cleared to speak to the media.

Nhlanhla Mbatha (50) – of Holinyoka, a rural village near the Nongoma – was selling his traditional Zulu spears, knives and other tools on the route to the Enyokeni Palace in the hope of catching traffic to the Zulu Reed Dance.

He said Buthelezi’s death was devastating to all the people of KwaZulu-Natal.

“On all matters from political, social, economic, traditional affairs we had put our trust in him and knew that if something is bad he will say hhayi khona, and that thing will not pass, but if the issue is handled genuinely, he will give his stamp of approval. He had that special gift and intellect; he was one of the best brains around the world,” Mbatha said.

Velenkosini Hlabisa, IFP president and leader of opposition in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, told journalists gathered in the garden at Buthelezi’s homestead that his party and the entire nation had lost a statesman par excellence.

“As everyone knows, the Prince of KwaPhindangene played a crucial role for the king to be on the throne. We know that the loss that we are mourning here today, even His Majesty The King Misuzulu is mourning because he knows that the prince was the pillar of his kingship,” Hlabisa said.

He said it had been Buthelezi’s wish that by the time he went to the grave, there was genuine reconciliation between the ANC and his IFP.

“Unfortunately this wish was not fulfilled. Now it is up to us as the leadership to pick up this baton and ensure that reconciliation is achieved. We will be initiating it with the ANC … but reconciliation between the two parties does not mean that they should be under one party. They can reconcile and still operate and work as two distinct parties,” Hlabisa said.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube, who also arrived at the homestead to express her condolences, said Buthelezi was an icon of the province, the country and the world.

She said Buthelezi was a humble and visionary traditional leader who accepted defeat through the ballot. She said Buthelezi had been supportive and always respectful to her. She said the provincial government was working with the Buthelezi family and others to ensure that his funeral befitted the standard expected in such high-profile events.

‘A pillar of strength’

Buthelezi’s death on the morning of the Zulu Reed Dance put a damper on the normally two-day event, which is attended by thousands of Zulu maidens carrying reeds to the king while singing and dancing to symbolise purity.

Zulu King Misuzulu used his speech at the Reed Dance ceremony to express his condolences, saying Buthelezi had played a huge role during his time on the throne and that of his two predecessors.

As a result, the king announced that they would shorten the event, so people could use Sunday to mourn the death of one of the Zulus’ best kingmakers. “He was a pillar of strength to the Zulu nation, to all of us. He always stood for the truth. He and myself were working together till the very end,” the king said.

The king did not mention his recent squabbles with Buthelezi about the composition of the Ingonyama Trust Board, which King Misuzulu endorsed and supported while Buthelezi did not.

As a result, Buthelezi refused to sign affidavits in support of King Misuzulu in court papers. The process that led to the king’s crowning is being challenged by his siblings and other members of the royal family. - Daily Maverick 

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